Environmental Sustainability and Governance

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  • The solutions to environmental problems, such as climate change and biodiversity loss, call for policies and actions that go beyond the boundaries of national and local governments or organizations. The Environmental Sustainability and Governance Programme at the UNU Institute of Advanced Studies (UNU-IAS) aims to understand the dynamics of governance mechanisms in order to balance the priorities, ideologies and time horizons of the different stakeholders responsible for the causes, consequences and solutions of pressing environmental problems. Research activities focus on addressing issues and challenges in the governance and management of different ecosystems, with a special focus on terrestrial and marine/ocean ecosystems; identifying synergies and interlinkages among various multilateral policy instruments related to environment, trade and development agendas; and highlighting equity related issues amidst various stakeholders.

    This programme’s research outputs will continue to inform, in a significant capacity, policy discussions within fora such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, ATS, World Trade Organisation, United Nations Environment Programme, and different conventions relevant to chemicals.

    Focal Points

    Research Fellow Dr. Suneetha Subramanian (Biodiplomacy Initiative), Senior Research Fellow Mr. Sam Johnston, Operating Unit Ishikawa/Kanazawa Director Ms. Anne McDonald, and Adjunct Senior Fellow Dr. Marjo Vierros (Global Marine Governance) will be key focal points leading different research initiatives within the programme.


    The programme studies the dynamics of environment/sustainable development governance. The research programme aims to understand challenges to sustainability and how the best governance mechanisms work to steer society towards a more sustainable path with special emphasis on well-being and ethics.

    The Global Marine Governance (GMG) Initiative, in particular, seeks to understand and address the continued decline of biodiversity in the world’s oceans through targeted research and capacity building. The research undertaken will seek to understand the status of biodiversity and management measures to date and to evaluate what types of management approaches, including new and innovative approaches, have worked or are likely to work in reducing biodiversity loss. Independent analyses of ‘what has worked or not and why’ will assist debates in the context of relevant fora, including but not limited to the United Nations Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group, to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction; the CBD; the United Nations Open-ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea; the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Capacity building efforts will focus on providing knowledge and building the skills needed to improve the protection and management of ocean ecosystems and resources.


    The programme will analyse different existing and prospective mechanisms of environmental governance by using qualitative and quantitative research methods under an interdisciplinary perspective. The programme will try to understand why and under what conditions successful governance mechanisms emerge. Human well-being and ethical considerations are an emerging area of research, especially as they are understood by local communities.

    For the GMG Initiative, the approaches taken include participation in scientific collaborations (such as the Global Ocean Biodiversity Initiative and the Global Open Ocean and Deep Seabed Biogeographic Classification System), assessments of management activities and ocean uses for a policy audience (such as the review of the CBD Programme of Work on Marine and Coastal Biodiversity and the development of the Bioprospecting Resource Tool), and novel ways to combine disciplines for improved oceans management (such as its work through the Traditional Knowledge Initiative).

    The GMG Initiative is unique in taking into account science, policy, socio-economic and legal issues as well as traditional knowledge in a multidisciplinary and comprehensive manner. The problems facing the oceanic environment are complex and have multiple root causes. As such, they can only be dealt with through cross-sectoral, multidisciplinary and innovative approaches that consider the ocean environment in its totality.


    Within the Biodiplomacy Initiative, several women are involved in leading various research projects. One emerging area that has benefited from gender considerations is the well-being and bioenterprise research at the community level. The Initiative has recognized that further consideration of gender perspectives in project and research conceptualization and implementation is further required. Gender and ethical issues are therefore an area of potential growth for this project. In 2012-13, efforts will be made to engage in dialogue with researchers with expertise in these areas.

    There is gender balance amongst project leaders of the Global Marine Governance Initiative. Additionally, the Initiative seeks to promote the involvement and further training of female marine science professionals, policymakers and other stakeholders. This principle will be put into practice in capacity building projects (through gender balance of trainers and trainees), in providing opportunities for young female students, and in seeking to involve female professionals in project implementation.

    Target Audience

    The target audience of the research and training activities includes the UN policy community, regional policymakers and developing country officials who participate in international environmental negotiation and sustainable development processes. The work is also geared to link with the academic community and community practitioners following environmental and sustainable development governance processes to enable UNU-IAS to act as a bridging organization between the UN and other multilateral processes and the important work done in academic circles.

    Specifically, the Biodiplomacy Initiative has further engaged with community level research and has also built research partnerships with national universities. Partnerships with the Equator Initiative, COMPAS Network and their local partners and universities in South-East Asia have proven to be a successful research strategy that will be strengthened and developed over the coming biennium.

    For the Global Marine Governance Initiative, the audience includes governments, scientists, coastal and ocean managers, the UN and other agencies, traditional knowledge holders and local communities, and other ocean stakeholders.

    Intended Impact

    Impact: Influencing policymaking in the UN System
    Target: The programme targets negotiations of environmental treaties and governance structures for managing environmental resources.
    How: This will be achieved by spreading the research findings through the network of researchers and policymakers interested in the theme.

    Impact: Influencing policymaking at the international level
    Target: For the Global Marine Governance Initiative, international targets include entities related to marine protected areas, oceans management and fisheries adopted by the World Summit on Sustainable Development and CBD.
    How: The Initiative will contribute to assessments related to progress towards these targets, analyse root causes of why targets have not been reached and propose solutions.

    Impact: Influencing policymaking at the regional level
    Target: For the programme’s Operating Unit Ishikawa/Kanazawa (OUIK), the Globally Important Agricultural Heritage systems (GIAHS) project in the Asian Region is a specific target. The Biodiplomacy Initiative will build research partnerships with national universities in Southeast Asia. The Global Marine Governance Initiative will build partnerships in the Pacific region in regards to marine and coastal management by indigenous and local communities, and share lessons learned including via global dissemination.
    How: OUIK will contribute to policymaking for biodiversity in agriculture, forestry and fisheries at local to national government levels. To target national universities in South-East Asia, the Biodiplomacy Initiative will produce policy-relevant outputs for the global community, but especially for policymakers in South-East Asia (Indonesia and Malaysia) and Japan. The Global Marine Governance Initiative will build partnerships towards improving marine management and sharing innovative local and traditional practices globally (for example CBD meetings).

    Impact: Influencing policymaking at the national level
    Target: OUIK targets policy at municipal prefectural governments in Japan, as well as at the Japanese Ministry of the Environment; the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF); the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT); and the Cabinet Secretary under the Prime Minister’s Office for Basic Laws of the Seas in its work on biodiversity, resource use and management, mostly in the area of rural and coastal communities, but also in urban environments.
    How: OUIK will aim to improve environmental consciousness among its main targets.

    Impact: Furthering knowledge in an academic field
    Target: The Biodiplomacy Initiative of the programme aims to develop,1) the concept of well-being, especially at the community level and as it applies to bioenterprising communities in developing countries; and 2) the Well-Being Forum to promote the assessment tool developed by the programme and partners. The Global Marine Governance Initiative will publish innovative research on topics of relevance, such as marine genetic resources and traditional knowledge.
    How: The Biodiplomacy Initiative will create a wider understanding of wellbeing as perceived by local communities and integrate this concept in policymaking, community development interventions and research, especially as it relates to biodiversity management and equity. The Global Marine Governance Initiative will aim at improving the academic community’s appreciation of relevant issues, such as marine genetic resources and traditional knowledge.

    Research Findings

    The programme is developing the use of traditional knowledge, user-friendly tools and methodologies to capture changes to ecosystems and human well-being. These include aspects related to socio-ecological landscapes related to land and coasts, marine biodiversity, biofuels and tropical forests. The research will be conducted with international agencies, other academics and with community level practitioners.

    Policy Bridging

    The programme will continue to utilize UNU-IAS Policy Briefs as a means of consolidating and disseminating policy relevant research findings and recommendations. Traditionally, the policy briefs launched at various international and regional meetings have been the main tool of dissemination. However, the programme will seek to reinvigorate its past strategy of submitting information documents to relevant meetings and to partner with national universities and researchers in their policy relevant publications and submissions. Use of web based tools for wider dissemination are also being explored.

    Additionally, the Operating Unit Ishikawa/Kanazawa, links the findings in research related to satoyama, satoumi and biodiversity in agriculture, forestry, fisheries in order to write policies and develop programmes at the local, regional and national levels.

    The Global Marine Governance Initiative presents research results at side events at relevant intergovernmental meetings. In addition, research results are often translated into policy papers that are circulated to delegates at international meetings.

    The Sustainable Development Governance Initiative distributed UNU-IAS policy reports at the CBD COP-10 in Nagoya in 2010, which were positively received by groups such as the Swedish biofuel delegation who aimed to diffuse it to biofuel experts among their colleagues in the European Union.

    Value Added

    The programme will continue to bring new insights to sustainable development governance. This will help the UN system, member states and international and local organizations to design more effective governance structures and processes. For individual initiatives within the programme, the Biodiplomacy Initiative will, especially in the coming biennium, seek to highlight links between various issues as it relates to biodiversity management. These will include community well-being, ethics, biocultural protocols and bioenterprise, climate change and land-use management, and modelling for decision support at the policy level. The Global Marine Governance (GMG) Initiative will fill the gap in the current activities of the United Nations system by producing policy-relevant knowledge that focuses exclusively on the majority of the Earth that is covered by oceans. The GMG project research activities follow the principles of policy-relevance, timeliness, accuracy and neutrality thus remaining independent, while maintaining credibility with UN member States. In fulfilling its mandate, the GMG collaborates with other oceans-relevant international and regional organizations, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), including the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission, the United Nations Environment Programme and its Regional Seas Programme and action plans, as well as with research institutions and non-governmental agencies.


    The programme will disseminate its research findings through publications (e.g., books, reports and working paper series), media releases, meetings with the community of academics and practitioners in the area (including UN staff), roundtables, webpage, seminars and other public events and possibly training workshops.

    Specifically, in the coming biennium, the Biodiplomacy Initiative will seek to further explore electronic media by writing for various environmental webzines such as Our World 2.0; participate in online discussion fora, and develop an online forum, information bulletin and supporting blog for the work on well-being and biocultural protocols.

    The Global Marine Governance (GMG) Initiative will disseminate through presentations and policy publications at relevant UN and other meetings, scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals, and via the UNU-IAS Traditional Knowledge Initiative and other UNU-IAS reports. The GMG will also continue to contribute and collaborate with a wide range of organizations to produce joint publications and other outputs.

    Timeline/Programme Cycle

    Some of the activities of the Biodiplomacy Initiative have been operating for quite a few years. It is intended that these continue for at least two years, releasing the results as appropriate (for example, several outputs from biodiversity-relevant research will be released a few months prior to and at COP-11 2012 in keeping with the existing research dissemination circle of the Biodiplomacy Initiative).

    The Sustainable Development Governance Initiative’s biofuel work continues and new potential donors will be approached. The Initiative is expected to take 1.5 to 2 years to complete depending on the final proposals agreed with partners.

    The Global Marine Governance Initiative has been operating since 2006, and is considered to be a long-term effort.


    The programme will have internal and external evaluation committees to assess its results; the internal evaluation will be carried out every year, while the external evaluation will take place every two years. The external committee will be composed of some of the best academic people in the area available in Japan and abroad. The programme also undergoes extensive research focus review during the annual UNU-IAS board meeting. It has been recognized that more periodic research cycle assessment is required and in 2012-2013 a stronger research cycle plan will be developed and implemented. Additionally, for the Global Marine Governance Initiative, implementation will be periodically reviewed by relevant staff and stakeholders. Significant external feedback is received at international meetings and through partners, as well as in through the submission of publications.


    The challenge is to continue to consolidate and strengthen key areas of the programme’s research agenda. The field is very wide hence it is important to focus on the strengths of existing researchers and to identify synergies with other programmes and projects within the Institute, both financially and research-wise. The start of a master’s programme at UNU-IAS poses another challenge for the programme, as teaching will be an additional task for researchers along with fund raising, dissemination and research. For the Global Marine Governance Initiative, fundraising presents a significant challenge.

  • Activities within the programme will involve cooperation between the UNU Institute of Advanced Studies and 10 partners:

    • UNU Institute for Sustainability and Peace
    • UNU Office of Communications, Tokyo
    • Convention on Biological Diversity
    • Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
    • United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea
    • United Nations Development Programme
    • United Nations Environmental Programme
    • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
    • UNESCO — Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission
    • International Union for Conservation of Nature
  • Title: (TBA)
    Author(s): Burton, Geoff
    Publication/Output Type: Book chapter
    Available at: Morgera, E., Buck, M., and Tsioumnai, E., eds. (Title to be chosen)
    Publisher: Klwer Law International & Oxford University Press
    Date Published: 2012

    Title: Biocultural Diversity and Conservation
    Author(s): Natural Justice, United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies, United Nations Environment Programme
    Publication/Output Type: Book
    Date Published: 2013

    Title: Bioenterprise Development and Community Protocols
    Author(s): ETC Foundation, COMPAS Network and United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies
    Publication/Output Type: Book
    Date Published: 2012

    Title: Biofuel Production and its Trade-offs: A Developing Country Perspective
    Author(s): Stromberg, P. Gasparatos, A.
    Publication/Output Type: Book chapter (forthcoming)
    Available at: In Gasparatos, A., Stromberg, P. (Eds.) Socioeconomic and environmental impacts of biofuels: Evidence from developing nations
    Publisher: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
    Date Published:

    Title: Biological prospecting in Antarctica
    Author(s): Vierros, M., Galloway-McLean, K. and Johnston, S.
    Publication/Output Type: In preparation

    Title: Conclusions: the Sustainability of Biofuels in Developing Countries
    Author(s): Gasparatos, A., Stromberg, P.
    Publication/Output Type: Book chapter (forthcoming)
    Available at: Gasparatos, A., Stromberg, P. (Eds.) Socioeconomic and environmental impacts of biofuels: Evidence from developing nations
    Publisher: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Title: Decision support tool for Climate Change and Land Use Policy Planning 2012-2013
    Author(s): United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, National University of Malaysia (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia)
    Publication/Output Type: Web-based tool
    Date Published: 2012

    Title: Ecosystem Services and Biofuel Sustainability
    Author(s): Gasparatos, A., Stromberg, P., Costanza, R., Esteban, M., Gardner, T., Ghazoul, J., Gomez-Baggethun, E. Koh, L.P., Takeuchi, K., Willis, K.
    Publication/Output Type: Journal article (submitted)

    Title: Ecosystem Services and Human Well-being Impacts of Palm Oil Expansion in Indonesia and Malaysia
    Author(s): Moreno-Penaranda, R. Gasparatos, A., Puppim de Oliveira, J., Suwa, A., Stromberg, P.
    Publication/Output Type: Book chapter (forthcoming)
    Available at: Takeuchi, Shiroyama, Matsuura and Saitoh (Eds.), Biofuels and Sustainability
    Publisher: UNU Press, Tokyo

    Title: Evaluation of trade-offs between conservation and development — Case of land use change in Malaysia and Indonesia
    Author(s): United Nations University Institute of Advanced Studies, Indonesian Institute of Sciences, National University of Malaysia (Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia), Asia Pacific Network for Global Change Research
    Date Published: 2012

    Title: Ex-situ Collections for Microbial Research: Heterogeneity in their Conservation Practices and Industry Spillovers
    Author(s): Stromberg, P.,  Pascual, U.,  Dedeurwaerdere, T.
    Publication/Output Type: Journal article (under review)

    Title: Explaining Bioprospecting Contract Outcomes: The Role of Property Rights and Global Governance over genetic resources
    Author(s): Stromberg, P., Pascual, U.
    Publication/Output Type: Journal article (under review)

    Title: Findings of research in Nanao Bay (tentative)
    Publication/Output Type: Article (upcoming)

    Title: Global warming and tropical cyclone damage in the Philippines
    Author(s): Esteban, M., Stromberg, P., Gasparatos, A., and Thompson Pomeroy, D.
    Publication/Output Type: Journal article (under review)

    Title: International Ocean Governance (tentative)
    Author(s): Arico, S.
    Publication/Output Type: Book (in prep.)

    Title: Managing the Transition to Sustainability in an Emerging Economy: Evaluating Green Growth Policies in Indonesia
    Author(s): Jupesta, Joni; Boer, Rizaldi; Parayil, Govindan; Harayama, Yuko; Yarime, Masaru; Puppim de Oliveira, Jose A.; Subramanian, Suneetha M.
    Publication/Output Type: Journal article
    Available at: Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions
    Publisher: Elsevier

    Title: Marine Biological Prospecting Beyond National Jurisdiction
    Author(s): Vierros, M. and Arico, S
    Publication/Output Type: In preparation

    Title: Nagoya Protocol Article 10— Treatment of Orphan Genetic Resources
    Author(s): Burton, Geoff
    Publication/Output Type: Journal article
    Available at: Morgera, E., Buck, M., and Tsioumnai, E., eds. The Nagoya Protocol in Perspective: Implications for International Law and Implementation Challenges, Martinus Nijhoff International Law Series
    Publisher: Brill
    Date Published: 2012

    Title: Regional Wise Cropping Pattern Changes in Andhra Pradesh, India: Determinants and Constraints
    Author(s): Mohan, G., Herath, S., Stromberg, P.
    Publication/Output Type: Journal article (submitted)

    Title: Research on Ama divers (tentative)
    Publication/Output Type: Article (upcoming)

    Title: Social motivations and Incentives in Ex-situ Conservation of Microbial Genetic Resources
    Author(s): Dedeurwaerdere, T., Stromberg, P., Pascual, U.,
    Publication/Output Type: Book chapter (submitted)
    Available at: Communia – the Digital Public Domain
    Publisher: Openbookpublishers

    Title: Socioeconomic and Environmental Impacts of Biofuels: Evidence from Developing Nations
    Author(s): Gasparatos, A. and Stromberg, P., eds.
    Publication/Output Type: Edited volume (forthcoming)
    Publisher: Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

    Title: State Environmentalism in China: an Epistemic Approach
    Author(s): Gu, Hongyan
    Publication/Output Type: Article (upcoming)
    Date Published: 2012

    Title: Strengthening the Socio-ecological Resilience of Forest-dependent Villages: The Case of the Qingkou Hani Village in Yunnan, China
    Author(s): Gu, Hongyan
    Publication/Output Type: Conference Proceeding (upcoming)
    Date Published: 2012

  • United Nations University
    Institute of Advanced Studies
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